Warsaw / Oswiecim (Poland): On Monday, 75 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by Soviet troops, the heads of state and government joined aging Holocaust survivors in Poland. More than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, died in the gas chambers of the camp or from hunger, cold and disease.
It was built in 1940 in occupied Poland by Nazi Germany to initially house Polish political prisoners. It became the largest extermination center in which Adolf Hitler's plan to kill all Jews – the "final solution" – was put into practice.
David Harris, chairman of the American Jewish Committee, said ahead of Monday's ceremonies that groups from right-wing white Supremacists to jihadists and the far left would fuel anti-Semitism worldwide. "Jews in Western Europe think twice before wearing a kippah. They think twice before going to a synagogue. Think twice before entering a kosher supermarket," he told Reuters.
A 2019 poll by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League found that about one in four Europeans take a "harmful and pervasive" stance towards Jews, compared to 19% of North Americans.
In Germany, 42% agreed that "Jews are still talking too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust," it said. Two people were killed in a shootout near a synagogue in East Germany in October 2019, which officials called an anti-Semitic attack.
After a visit to Auschwitz last week, Mohammed al-Issa, head of a global Muslim mission society, said governments and Muslim communities should do more to combat anti-Semitism. "European countries should have stricter and more active laws that punish anti-Semitism," Al-Issa, secretary general of the Mecca-based Muslim World League (MWL), told Reuters.
More than a dozen heads of state, including Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, will attend the ceremony from 3:30 p.m. (1430 GMT) at the "Gate of Death", where railroad tracks led victims to the camp.
The memorial service takes place when Poland tries to highlight its own suffering during World War II, in which six million Poles, including three million Polish Jews, were killed and Warsaw razed to the ground. For many non-Jewish Poles, Auschwitz remains the place where the Nazis imprisoned and killed Polish resistance fighters, the intelligentsia, Roman Catholic priests and innocent civilians.
Critics say the Nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government is not doing enough to counter anti-Semitism, but instead is focusing on what it sees as Polish heroism during the war, and playing the claims of Jews to return confiscated goods Property down after the war. According to PiS, the West cannot grasp the extent of the nation's suffering and bravery.
A survivor, a Jewish Pole, spoke about the need to remember Auschwitz. "We have to do everything so that this world doesn't get amnesia," said Benjamin Lesser at the camp on Sunday. "It's hard to believe that civilized, educated people could become such monsters."